I can't predict that this book will be a classic for years to come, but I do think it should be. In recent decades, the field of world history has been relentless in its downgrading of the idea of Western uniqueness in pursuit of a supposed multicultural purity of point of view. In this book, Ricardo Duchesne calls into question much of the key scholarly research seeking to justify this anti-Eurocentric spirit, he also makes it clear just how much we are losing by denying the unique heritage of our Western cultural and intellectual journey. And the "we" in this case is not only the West itself, but all of humanity.
In the book's first half, Duchesne undertakes a vigorous and exhaustive interrogation of the entire gamut of academic world history's current pace-setters (Andre Gunder Frank; Immanuel Wallerstein and world systems theories: Pomeranz-Wong-Goldstone et all on the Great Divergence; Patrick Manning on Big History; Felipe Fernandez-Armesto; John Hobson on the East's influence on the West; Jack Goody, etc.). It is a tour de force challenge to the prevailing academic paradigm in this field. It deals specifically and rigorously with the work of the above mentioned scholars and incorporates and summarizes a huge amount of the research of many others who in various ways challenge the paradigm - David Landes, Joel Mokyr, Aaron Maddison, Joseph Bryant, Margaret Jacobs, Peer Vries (partially), Edward Grant, Toby Huff, Harold Berman, Victor David Hanson, and a number of others.
Duchesne explores a great many facets of the debate among these scholars, but I will mention just one: the arguments about the "Great Divergence," of the West, or England, from China. It is inescapable from Duchesne's exhaustive review of the counter-evidence that there is an enormous amount of solid research calling into question the contentions of Kenneth Pomeranz, Bin Wong, Jack Goldstone et al that China and Europe were economically similar through the 1700s and that only England's luck at having nearby coal and bonus land resources from its colonies gave it an edge. (Goldstone's view is somewhat different from this but results in the same overall conclusion - that the West was in no way uniquely enabled by its cultural history to launch the industrial age). In my view the evidence Duchesne reviews is pretty conclusive against this theory, but it is clear in any case that those defending the theory simply do not deal with much of this evidence rigorously, if at all.
I do not think anyone will be able intelligently to defend or criticize the prevailing paradigm any more without grappling with Duchesne's thorough analysis. He comes down solidly on the side of the critics of the current paradigm, but he deals honestly and rigorously with the ideas of those he disputes - plus he gives all of them plenty of credit for advancing the field as they have in many ways.
Duchesne devotes the second part of his book mainly to his own theory about the uniqueness of Western civilization. That theory is definitely not a mindless Eurocentric celebration of the West. It is much more of an acquired-taste/hard-liquor take on Western uniqueness - stressing as it does the role of a uniquely aggressive, restless, aristocratic-warrior derived individualism, which Duchesne traces back to the Indo-European horse-riding nomads of the Pontic steppes. It is this combination of qualities he sees as forming the matrix within which the West's rationalism, science, philosophy, art and literature, as well as its industrial drive and dynamism, war-fighting proclivity, and imperialism evolved. I happen to find his take intriguing, bracing and clarifying, I admit. But even if you don't, you cannot expect to understand the debate at the very heart of this field without finding out what Duchesne's take is and grappling with it. Aside from his case for "uniqueness," which will excite opposition I am sure, his stress on culture and intellectual life, ideas, over the current sociological and economic emphasis is in my opinion long overdue.
(By the way, one of the ironies in Duchesne's analysis is his view that the multicultural critique of "Eurocentrism" is itself as Western as can be, a manifestation of a unique "negativity" inherent in the dynamics of Western culture, with its constant and restless curiosity about what is just over the horizon, what is unknown and unbounded - or, to put it in more fashionable words, the "Other.")
Duchesne's exploration of Western individualism and rationalism, with extensive discussions of Max Weber, Hegel, Homer, Nietzche, is more speculative than his analysis of research in the first half of the book. For one thing, in anthropological and sociological terms his own insights rest heavily on what is still only indistinctly known about Europe and the Pontic steppes back a good three thousand years BCE or more. Otherwise, they arise out of extensive explorations of the thought of some key philosophers and social theorists, most of whom are not considered relevant to this field, but should be. It will not be easy to convince the unconvinced that Duchesne's speculations in this realm are provable, but his ideas will still clarify the terms of debate even for those who disagree with them.
Unfortunately, the book is idiotically overpriced. I sincerely hope a cheap paperback is being planned, because at this point few will be able to afford the fee. A thorough discussion and debate about this book and its implications is going to be unavoidable if the field is to advance and recover a vitality it is now in danger of losing.